Jul 20, 2009

Israel’s American Enemies

Jim Fletcher
By Jim Fletcher

Because I’ve just returned from the International Christian Retail Show (ICRS) in Denver, the topic of Israel’s critics is fresh on my mind. I hope that this is all coherent.

The ICRS show — organized by the Christian Booksellers’ Association — is the biggest Christian book show in the country, held each summer. Denver was the 16th I’ve attended. Years ago, there were many books by authors like Terry James, Hal Lindsey, Chuck Missler, etc. Their publishers (Missler’s Koinonia House included) used to display their books and orders piled in.

Today, the landscape is much different. Very few publishers produce what I’d call “pro Israel” books or DVDs. Not only is there a dearth of this kind of material, there are pro Palestinian sources creeping in. Or at least, sources that try to be “even-handed.”

It’s important to understand that Christian retail is in trouble, and has been for several years. Bookstores have been competing with Wal-Mart, Barnes & Noble, Target, and other big-box retailers. Moreover, lots of independent bookstores have disappeared, purchased by Christian chain stores, or driven out of business altogether. Years ago, the independents were often owned and operated by people who were, shall I say, more biblical in their outlook. They tended to support Israel and prophecy.

Today, the situation exists in which the chain stores — Family Christian Stores, LifeWay, etc. — are not necessarily “conservative” in their infrastructure. In other words, a single buyer is the gatekeeper for an entire chain. Do you see? From a situation in the past in which 1,000 independent people made book selections, you now have a half-dozen key buyers making those choices.

Those buyers now reflect a slide in what I would call Biblical Christianity.

Now, let me say this, before I get flooded with emails. Of course there are still biblically based buyers, stores, and distributors. I’m not condemning the whole batch. I’m making a generalization, but one that is significant enough that it has affected Israel’s image in this country.

Here’s an example. Colin Chapman’s Whose Promised Land? was released in 2002, and it most definitely does not support Israel’s claim to the land. Chapman’s book would be very much at home in the Israel-bashing mainline denominations, but today it is mainstream. I was in a Christian chain store recently and noticed that Whose Promised Land? was on the shelf.

Certainly, stores are free to stock what they wish, but if that is your argument, you miss my point. The fact is, there are quite a few books like Chapman’s circulating through evangelical circles today. There are not as many Bible prophecy books — and those have traditionally supported Israel. In fact, Bible prophecy is treated like a red-headed stepchild in Christian retail today. Of course, stores will stock John Hagee, and they do stock those books (David Jeremiah also comes to mind), but whereas at one time many publishers were in on that field, today most seem almost embarrassed about it.

No, it’s more than that. Let me be honest. Most appear at best indifferent, and several are hostile. I’m reminded of the Baker Books merger with the Emergent community. And we know that Emergents are not supportive of Israel. Other publishers, like InterVarsity, are very open to publishing books that present the pro Palestinian view.

It was sad to walk the floor this week and see what Christian retail has become, in several respects. Windblown Media, for example, displayed. The publisher of The Shack, a generation ago, would not have been welcomed on the floor. Now they are mainstream. They are mainstream because their books sell, and that has become the driving motivation of much of Christian retail today. Tar and feather me if you want, but that’s the way I see it.

Then, this week, I took two of my Israeli friends — publishers — around the floor at ICRS. We talked with a distributor who was at best indifferent to the books they wished to introduce to American markets. Actually, I realized right away that this man’s personal views were anything but supportive of Israel. He said he “appreciated” Jewish “things,” but my friends were incredulous that he was so indifferent.

Yet this is typical of the market today.

So what is my point? There are plenty of great pro Israel books and materials on Bible prophecy out there…but you probably won’t find them in Christian bookstores. Think about where you spend your money.

On the floor at ICRS were also publications like Christianity Today and World magazine. CT is openly pro Palestinian, while at times, World can be so even-handed, one wonders if the staff is pro Palestinian.

The irony is, the stores are struggling mightily to stay open, and yet they dismiss an entire conservative segment of the populace. There is a growing irritation with biblical Christianity. So hopefully you see the irony: there are still millions of biblical Christians out there, but the Christian retail industry virtually shows contempt for them. They do not cater to them, cultivate them, reach out to them.

I have tried to get Christian stores to stock more pro Israel material, including magazines like Israel Today.

Always rebuffed. Always told that that kind of material “doesn’t sell well” in Christian stores.

Amazing. So the stores continue to promote Max Lucado, The Shack, Emergent authors. Although I can be mocked for saying so, there is a spiritual dimension to producing and selling Christian product, and if the end-product is not biblical, that corruption of the message will rot everything from within.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: you can help in the promotion of pro Israel and Bible prophecy books and DVDs. I’d like to hear from anyone who network with me to do that.